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Peer support resources for solos and small firms

  • July 01, 2015
  • James Careless

Compared to their larger legal counterparts, solo practitioners and small law firms don’t have the time or money to invest in analysing and improving their business practices. Fortunately, there are many peer-based support options that can them up their games in affordable, efficient ways.

Tap Into associations

Whether it be a local CBA branch or a group of lawyers focused on a specific area of legal practice, associations can be great peer resources. After all, their members are lawyers too; they have an intimate knowledge of the struggles of legal life.

A case in point: As a solo who specializes in immigration, Toronto lawyer Vince Wong relies on the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the CBA’s National Citizenship and Immigration Law Section, and the Toronto Lawyers Association for peer support. “I tap into these associations for the additional formal training I need, and to keep myself on top of changes to the law and new legal precedents,” said Wong. “These are my peers; people who are doing the same work as I am, and who understand what I am dealing with.”

Go online, young lawyer!

Now more than ever, the web is the go-to place for quick access to legal peer support resources. Options include the CBA’s National Small, Solo and General Practice Forum; the Law Society of Upper Canada’s LAWPRO website; and the Law Society of British Columbia's Practice Resources and Support Page; among many, many others. Another option to consider is The Law Office Management Association, a not-for-profit group that covers all the administrative management areas involved in running a solo/small law firm.

Jennifer Reynolds is the founder of Fresh Legal, a two-lawyer firm in Ottawa. She goes online for peer support; not just from resources such as the ones listed above, but also social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. “I also seek out users of the same online products I use, such as Clio, for their ideas and advice,” she said.

Manage training in-house

Patterson Law is a Nova Scotian small legal firm with offices in Halifax, New Glasgow, and Truro. When it comes to peer support, Patterson Law does it in-house: “We compile regular legal updates that we distribute to all of our staff on an ongoing basis,” said Lyn MacArthur, the firm’s accounting manager. “We also do annual sessions on legal trends and precedents for our lawyers, which are created and presented by members of our staff.” In addition, Patterson Law has specific practice groups that meet monthly to compare notes and help each other out.

Network, network, network

The best way to have access to peer support when you need it is to create links beforehand through regular networking. “Whether it is done through the bar association, conferences, or informal social events – or all of them – networking gives solos and small firms the kind of peer support that lawyers in large firms have in-house,” said Dan Pinnington, LAWPRO’s vice-president of claims prevention and stakeholder relations. “Building relationships through networking doesn’t just pay off when a lawyer needs peer support. They can also be a great source of new work and career advancement opportunities for solos and small firms.”

“I regularly booked ‘coffee dates’ with other lawyers to build our ties and help each other out,” said Wong. “I stay in touch with other lawyers that I have met through CBA events such as the Young Lawyers,” added Reynolds. “I also keep current with other business owners that I have met through my BNI (Business Network International) Canada group.”

Get a law office walkthrough

When he is not practising law at Christianson TDS Law in Portage la Prairie, Bjorn Christianson provides practice management advice for members of the Law Society of Manitoba.

“One of the most effective ways I do this is by simply walking through a law firm’s offices, and seeing how they do things,” said Christianson. Some of most common improvements he suggests involves firms to moving to digital dictation – “you’d be amazed how many lawyers are still using tape recorders” – and saving all of the notes associated with a case when only the final documents are required to be filed.

“The point of a walkthrough is to spot outdated practices and offer ideas to do them,” said Christianson said. “This is where another lawyer can be so helpful: We understand the work our peers do, and their desire to do this work more efficiently and cost-effectively.”

Mentors matter                 

Allan Oziel is a solo business and technology lawyer in Toronto. “Lawyers in similar practice areas … generously provided their time and mentorship to me when I had questions on matters that I did not have significant experience in,” he said. “My mentors include experts in IT, technology, and corporate law. Collectively, they generously give me the benefit of their experience and knowledge, which is considerable.”

Oziel now passes this same mentorship along to others. “I will always meet with young lawyers and provide help because others did it for me,” he said.

Check the library!

It may seem old hat in the digital age, but one of the greatest peer support tools for solos and small firms is their law society’s physical library. It provides access to a wide range of important legal documents that have not been digitized for the web, in a quiet academic setting that can provide a lawyer with much-needed mental quiet.

“I happen to be within walking distance of Osgoode Hall and its Great Library,” said Vince Wong. “When all else fails, there’s nothing like getting back to the books for peer support! Besides, the depth of the legal collection here is still among the very best in Canada; whether you are a solo lawyer or someone who works for a major Bay Street firm.”

About the Author

James Careless is a regular contributor to PracticeLink.

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